Rights of the court – judgement, contempt – CrPC Notes

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Mithu v. State of Punjab

Decision: There is no rational justification for making a distinction in the matter of punishment between persons who commit murders whilst they are under the sentence of life imprisonment and persons who commit murders whilst they are not under the sentence of life imprisonment. Further, no rational distinction can be made in the matter of sentencing between a person who commits murder after serving out the sentence of life imprisonment and a person who commits murder while he is still under that sentence.

It is because the death sentence has been made mandatory by s. 303 I.P.C. in regard to a particular class of persons that, as a necessary consequence, they are deprived of the opportunity under s. 235 (2), Cr. P.C. to show cause why they should not be sentenced to death and the Court is relieved from its obligation under s.354 (3), Cr. P.C. to state the special reasons for imposing the sentence of death. The deprivation of these rights and safeguards which is bound to result in injustice is harsh, arbitrary and unjust.

If the law provides a mandatory sentence of death as section 303 of the Penal Code does, neither section 235(2) nor section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure can possibly come into play. If the Court has no option save to impose the sentence of death, it is meaningless to hear the accused on the question of sentence and it becomes superfluous to state the reasons for imposing the sentence of death. The blatant reason for imposing the sentence of death in such a case is that the law compels the court to impose that sentence.

Zahira Habibullah Sheikh v. State of Gujarat

Case in which she gives one testimony to the court and then changes testimony later.  The case discusses whether she is liable for contempt of court.

The Inquiry Officer has categorically recorded that Zahira had changed her stands at different stages and has departed from statements made before this Court. So far as the question whether she was threatened, coerced, lured, induced and/or in any manner pressurized to make statements in a particular way by any person or persons, it has been found that Zahira has not been able to explain the assets in her possession in spite of several opportunities having been granted.

The section 311, CrPC  is manifestly in two parts. Whereas the word used in the first part is “may”, the second part uses “shall”. In consequences, the first part gives purely discretionary authority to a Criminal Court and enables it at any stage of an enquiry, trial or proceeding under the Code (a) to summon any one as a witness, or (b) to examine any person present in Court, or (c) to recall and re-examine any person whose evidence has already been recorded. On the other hand, the second part is mandatory and compels the Court to take any of the aforementioned steps if the new evidence appears to it essential to the just decision of the case. This is a supplementary provision enabling, and in certain circumstances imposing on the Court the duty of examining a material witness who would not be otherwise brought before it. It is couched in the widest possible terms and calls for no limitation, either with regard to the stage at which the powers of the Court should be exercised, or with regard to the manner in which it should be exercised. It is not only the prerogative but also the plain duty of a Court to examine such of those witnesses as it considers absolutely necessary for doing justice between the State and the subject. There is a duty cast upon the Court to arrive at the truth by all lawful means and one of such means is the examination of witnesses of its own accord when for certain obvious reasons either party is not prepared to call witnesses who are known to be in a position to speak important relevant Facts.

Failure to accord fair hearing either to the accused or the prosecution violates even minimum standards of due process of law. It is inherent in the concept of due process of law, that condemnation should be rendered only after the trial in which the hearing is a real one, not sham or a mere farce and pretence. Since the fair hearing requires an opportunity to preserve the process, it may be vitiated and violated by an overhasty stage-managed, tailored and partisan trial.

The State has a definite role to play in protecting the witnesses, to start with at least in sensitive cases involving those in power, who have political patronage and could wield muscle and money power, to avert trial getting tainted and derailed and truth becoming a casualty.

Verdict : she is convicted and penalized for contempt.

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